Owned by a family of perfumers, Magna Pars L'Hotel à Parfum is a fragrant luxury hotel in Milan’s Tortona district, the kernel of the city’s creative industries. Formerly the Martone family's perfumery, the building was ushered into post-industrial life with a makeover of plate glass and painted steel, reopening as a stylish ‘hotel à parfum’. Alongside sleek white furniture, oak floors and artworks from Milan’s Brera Academy, each suite has a signature fragrance crafted by some of the most gifted ‘noses’ in the industry. Slightly south of the tourist-heavy Duomo district, the hotel is also away from the fray, rubbing shoulders with the studios of artists and designers instead.
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Chocolate brownies and a bottle of Ferrari sparkling wine
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £236.37 (€284), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €5.00 per person per night on check-out.
Room rates usually include breakfast, a Continental buffet spread with fresh bread and pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, cold meats and more; bacon and eggs are made to order.
The hotel is owned by the Martone family, who’ve been involved in Italy’s perfume industry for three generations. The building used to house their factory before it outgrew the space and moved outside of the city.
The hotel usually closes for a few weeks in August.
At the hotel
Courtyard garden, spacious lounge area, in-house perfume laboratory and boutique, spa, gym and free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, minibar, Nespresso coffee machine, tea-making facilities and free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
The Presidential Suite, which has a double-height ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the treetops in the courtyard. The bedroom is on the first floor, looking down onto the living room below.
The sleek and modern spa has a steam room, chromotherapy shower and a treatment room that can accommodate couples. There’s a host of options to help you unwind after a day spent touring the city’s galleries and boutiques, with anti-jet-lag, Pitta and Vatta massages among the offerings; reflexology and Ayurvedic treatments are available too. The oils used for the massages are made entirely in-house by the owners, who produce fragrances for Bulgari, Trussardi and other luxury brands.
Pack your best sunglasses, which are as indispensable to the Milanese as an umbrella is to Londoners.
All of the the hotel’s common areas are wheelchair accessible, as are three of the Executive Suites.
Children of all ages are welcome. Extra beds (€50 a night) and baby cots (free) can be added to all rooms except Junior Suites, which can only fit a single cot. Babysitting is available for €25 an hour; four hours’ notice is required when booking.
The hotel is powered partially by solar panels on the roof, they recycle wherever possible, offer guests the use of bicycles and source local and seasonal ingredients for the restaurant.
On a warm day, take a table on the terrace, where you’ll have the scent of the fragrant garden on the air. If there’s a chill, head inside and sit by the tall windows instead.
The Milanese are a modish lot, erring towards the smart and understated end of the dressing scale. Add a splash of colour or a hint of pattern to set yourself apart.
Like everything else at the hotel, restaurant Da Noi In has a sleek, minimalist look, with shiny black tables and chairs in muted tones of grey. French windows run the length of the room, opening onto the decked terrace – the go-to spot for sunny mornings and balmy nights. But for all its contemporary looks, there’s no doubt that the menu is authentically Italian at heart, making use of home-made pasta and olive oil from the owner’s Tuscan crop. The fish and seafood – arguably the restaurant's specialty – are particularly popular; the grouper carpaccio and the squid-ink agnolotti with gurnard and mullet ragout are two of the stand-out offerings. When it comes to wine, you’ve a wealth of options – 600 bottles to be exact.
Liquidambar takes its name from a species of tree found in the hotel’s garden, which produces a resin that gives off a warm, balsamic scent when burnt. Looking out towards its namesake, the bar is cut from blocks of white onyx and backed by mirrors. There are plenty of stools and lounge chairs to choose from, but the best seat in the house has to be the high-backed sofa upholstered in red velvet. The cocktail menu changes regularly, showcasing a wide variety of fragrant and exotic ingredients. The other big attraction is the open-plan wine cellar just off to the side of the room. At 600 bottles strong, this treasure trove contains something to satisfy even the most discerning of drinkers.
Breakfast is served from 7am to 10.30am, lunch from 1pm to 3pm, and dinner 7.30pm to 10.30pm. The bar is open from 7am all the way through to 1am.
During restaurant hours, there’s a full room-service menu featuring the restaurant's signature spaghetti, beef with grilled vegetables and club sandwiches. A reduced menu is available from 11pm to 10am.
Magna Pars L'Hotel à Parfum sits on Via Forcella, a quiet side street in the fashionable and refreshingly tourist-free district of Tortona.
The closest airport is Milan Linate, which is well served by flights throughout Europe. It takes 30 minutes to drive from there to the hotel. The next closest option is Milan Malpensa, which is around 50 minutes away by car; there’s also the Malpensa Express train, which takes an hour to reach Milan Central station. The Smith24 team can arrange flights and transfers; call anytime, day or night.
A tour de force of imposing 1930s architecture, Milan's central station is a busy international hub; services arrive daily from all over Italy and its neighbours. From Milan Centrale, take the (green) M2 line to Porta Genova FS, which is a two-minute walk from the hotel.
Those unaccustomed to driving in an Italian city may find the process a little stressful, with unannounced lane changing, liberal horn usage and scooters seeming to appear out of nowhere. While Milan is more sedate than some Italian cities, you’re probably better off using the Metro system, which is fast and reliable. If you do want to hire, Smith24 can arrange it. The hotel has on-site parking for €25 a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Art, fashion and design make up the Milanese holy trinity, and you’ll find endless opportunities to discover their many faces. That said, you’ll run yourself into the ground trying to visit every gallery and exhibition on offer, so it’s best to pinpoint particular artists or artworks that you want to to see instead. For those with leanings towards the contemporary and avant garde, there’s the Fondazione Prada, worth seeing as much for its buildings as the art housed within them. To the north of the centre there’s the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, which has taken up residence in the grand Villa Belgiojoso Bonaparte. After your visit, take a turn around the Indro Montanelli park just across the road. Another worthy contender is the Gallerie d’Italia, which warrants a visit for its decorative floors and ceilings alone. Outside, you’ll find a statue of Leonardo Da Vinci, credited with designing many of the improvements to the city’s navigli (canals). Flanked by market stalls, bars and restaurants, the Navigli Grande makes a fine spot for an aperitivo. Shopping needs little in the way of pointers, with boutiques of every description ranged throughout the city centre. The concentration is highest in the Quadrilatero della moda, considered by many to be the world’s foremost fashion district. You’ll also find vast Prada and Versace flagships in the cavernous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, which is right next to the Duomo di Milano, a Gothic masterpiece 600 years in the making. Go early if you want to see inside – the queues grow by the hour.
The Milanese like to lunch, often turning it into a drawn-out social affair – which can make finding a table tricky if you haven’t booked ahead. One hotspot is the Drogheria Milanese, coveted for its vast selection of delectable small plates and consistently friendly service. Another lively contender is the Nerino Dieci Trattoria, an elevated and authentic Italian eatery with a loyal fan base. For a dinner to remember, try to snag a booking at Contraste, which lives up to its name from the moment you step inside, where decorative ceilings and antique wooden floors come up against a bright red chandelier and cloud-like sculptures. Whichever menu you choose, you can be certain that the dishes will be as visually creative as they are delicious, taking the idea of food ‘telling a story’ to new heights. Perhaps their most photographed creation is a dessert that's strewn with edible golden bullets and flecked with blood-red sauce – the kitchen’s dramatic curtain call.
You’ve probably heard of Philip K Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But what about this one: do single men dream of seductive furniture? Because I have – it happened a few weeks before I first went to Milan. I was in London and it was the dead of night, but my mind had me up and striding down a long and lavish arcade. Suddenly I stopped, halted in my tracks by the work of a master. On the other side of the glass I saw milk-white marble and finely formed curves. But it wasn’t Michelangelo's David or Pieta, it was Achille Castiglioni’s 1962 Arco lamp. ‘An absolute classic’, I thought to myself, before waking up and wondering what on earth was going on.
Lying there, I reasoned that this wasn't that odd. I’d recently returned from a spin around Berlin, so perhaps my head was still on a Postmodern merry-go-round. Whatever the cause, the fact that this Milanese beauty slipped into my dreams told me that I needed to go there at once. When you start dreaming about 1960s furniture, it’s time to bypass Italy’s more sentimental cities.
And so, a few weeks later, I find myself on a plane, musing that somewhere in Venice, a full-throated gondolieri has been spared a journey with an apathetic audience of one. After touching down, I engage the services of the second most romantic form of transport, the Metro, riding it to the refreshingly tourist-light district of Tortona. The kernel of Milan’s creative industries, this quarter is the haunt of the city’s movers and shapers, full of ateliers and design studios. Ducking down a quiet side street, I spot a building clad in gleaming plate glass, laying bare a network of corridors and staircases within. I hadn’t known what my hotel, Magna Pars L'Hotel à Parfum, actually looked like from the outside, but now I advance with George Clooney’s dulcet tones sounding in my head – ‘what else?’
Once inside, I’m struck by the unexpectedly yacht-like looks of the lobby: there’s wooden decking, white steel and an awning that cascades across the room like a billowing sail. I’m still admiring the space and light of it all when I’m promptly unburdened of my bag, and, before I know it, being borne away to a room far larger than the one I booked. ‘Does your hotel have a smirking area?’, I nearly ask. I think I may need to use it.
Just about retaining composure, I’m ushered into a split-level suite with a soaring ceiling and industrial windows that are flush with the treetops in the garden. It’s very sleek and restrained, the furnishings mostly white-on-white, which only makes the wash of red and gold leaves outside burn brighter in the sun. There’s a noble oak floor, more leather sofas than I could possibly make use of and a coffee table as wide as the living room of my London flat.
Loafing about with a Nespresso (hello, George), I’m again struck by something I noticed when I first walked in: the room smells fantastic. This makes sense once you know that Magna Pars Suites used to be a perfume factory belonging to the Martone family, who built the hotel when they outgrew the site. Commissioning some of the best ‘noses’ in the business, they created a signature fragrance for every room, putting scent at the hotel’s heart.
In my room, the woody, spiced air is all but telling me to sink into a sun-bathed sofa and turn lotus eater for the rest of the day. But I’m short of time and the city’s art and architecture has a siren call of its own, so I wrestle myself away. Heading in the direction of the Fondazione Prada, I soon find myself walking down streets that read like an encyclopedia of architectural styles: there are streamline moderne shops, brutalist blocks, and I even pass a multistory car park that’s beautiful. Just when I’m convinced I’m lost (I’m standing on a bridge over a weed-choked goods yard – not very Prada), I spot a white tower jutting high over the surrounding rooftops. What else?
Designed by architectural provocateur Rem Koolhaas, this Prada-funded art centre is built on the site of a former gin distillery, with works housed inside refurbished warehouses, brewing silos and cutting-edge new builds. In a moment of unapologetic flamboyance, the building at the centre of it all is painted from top to tail in 24-karat gold leaf. There’s a dreamlike quality to the place: everything’s so immaculate that you feel like you’re standing in the architect’s model, not the real thing. By luck, I also arrive during the golden hour, and before long the glassy flank of one building is reflecting the golden centerpiece, now washed smoky pink in the sunset. This might be even more beautiful than my ethereal Arco.
A few hours later, my serenity stutters when I realise I’m going to be late for my date with Da Noi – not a person, the hotel’s restaurant. Having rushed back through the dusky streets (and survived the day on a diet of olives and Peroni), I arrive breathless, ravenous and certain that I’ll have lost my table. To my sincere relief, the maître d' shrugs off my lateness with effortless charm, and though it’s a Saturday night, practically sweeps me into a table that’s been kept free.
The highlight of the meal is the tortellini, stuffed with beef so perfectly cooked it comes apart at the lightest touch. I don’t pretend to know much about Italian wine so I let the waiter do the honours, and he comes back with just the sort of rich, broody bottle I didn’t know I wanted. For those who don’t need the assistance of a seer, there’s a whole walk-in wine cellar to choose from.
Rekindled by this Bacchanalian feast, I slip not into bed but into the bar, which is cut from impressive blocks of veined onyx. One thing about travelling solo is that you get plenty opportunity to take stock of your fellow guests, and I can’t help but notice that quite a few look very Milanese in their sharp tailoring and jet-black dresses. Before long, a group have invited me over (they are indeed locals – always a good sign), and not that long after that, I’m trying to explain that I was enticed into the city by a slender-necked lamp.
I’d planned to wake early the next morning so I could beat the crowds to the dizzyingly ornate Duomo, but I’m waylaid by the softness of the bed and the liberal measures in last night’s drinks. After a tropical soaking, I finally make it down to breakfast. I’m just administering a double espresso – the real deal, thick as crude oil and with a caffeine jolt like a pistol shot – when champagne appears. There’s a flashed smile. ‘Will sir…?’ I suppose he will. It may have taken 600 years to build, but Milan’s cathedral – and my repentance – will have to wait. Forgive us our decadent breakfasts (and the hotels that tempt us into them). Besides, why not linger a while? I came for the modern, not the old. And I got just what I needed, too: I haven’t dreamt of designer furniture since. Next time I do, I know just where I’ll go.